My personal opinion is that lying to patients or misrepresenting the state of the evidence in any way is always unethical and must be scrupulously avoided. Telling the patient that what you are prescribing is a placebo wouldn’t excuse you, because the very fact that you are giving it has persuasive meaning for the patient. I think attempts to elicit a placebo effect should be only used in conjunction with an effective treatment. Words should be used carefully, and the focus should be on general measures that bolster the doctor/patient relationship and enhance the patient’s trust, like spending more time with the patient and showing a greater interest and sympathy.
We face two major challenges. First, we need to improve the ways in which we communicate the results of placebo research so the public won’t think we are willy-nilly recommending placebo deceptions of any kind in clinical practice. Second, we need to answer some difficult questions about the ethical limits of taking various actions to increase expectations. The answers will not be easy. Let the discussion begin.”
When I say that some particular view of death offers comfort, I don’t mean that it completely eradicates any pain or grief associated with death. Of course it doesn’t. Nothing does that — not even religion. (More on that in a moment.) When I say, “This view of death offers some comfort,” I’m not saying, “If you look at death this way, it will no longer trouble you. With this philosophy, you can view death blithely, even cheerfully. The death of the ones you love, and your own eventual death, will no longer suck even in the slightest.”
That’s not what I mean by “comfort.”
When I say, “This atheist philosophy of death offers comfort,” I mean, “This atheist philosophy can, to some extent, alleviate the suffering and grief caused by death. It can make the suffering and grief feel less overwhelming, less unbearable. It doesn’t make the pain disappear — but it can put the experience into a context that gives it some sort of meaning, and it can offer the hope that with time, the pain will diminish. It can give us a sense that there’s a bridge over the chasm: a feeling of trust that, when the worst of the grief passes, we’ll have a solid foundation to return to. It doesn’t make the grief go away — but it can make it better.”
That’s what I mean by “comfort.” It would be nice if an atheist philosophy of death could do more; but given how monumentally frightening and upsetting death is, the fact that atheism can provide even this degree of comfort is not trivial.
And maybe more to the point: Religion doesn’t do any better.”